A Blank Canvas

When I started this blog, about 14 months ago, I lived in a different home and had no notion of moving.  That home was a modest, 50 year-old bungalow with small rooms on the main floor.  I had renovated the entire basement, such that most of it was a large room for relaxing and entertaining, and by doing so I nearly doubled square footage of our living space.

50 years ago, middle-class homes in this part of the world were designed much differently than today’s homes.  Single garages were common.  Three bedrooms were typical, and the rooms were comparatively small by today’s standards.  Apparently, people had very few clothes 50 years ago, because closet space in my previous home was nearly unworkably small.  Basements were not typically part of the living space of the home, so there was little in the way of finishing.  That worked out to my advantage when I bought that home over fifteen years ago.  I eventually finished the basement so that we had a spacious and comfortable place to escape the relentlessly oppressive newspaper-coloured winter skies that characterize the better part of six months at the west end of Lake Ontario.

2013 was a tumultuous year because we were relocated three times for employment.  We sold the bungalow and moved around until landing where we are now.  When we searched for a new home, I was determined to avoid buying a major project, and that criteria contributed to the myriad of considerations that got us to our current home.   I’m an urbanite at heart, and given the choice, I would much prefer to live in an urban residential neighbourhood over any other setting.  But timing, the real-estate market, and our employment situations conspired to exclude the possibility of living in the heart of the city this time around.  Our new home is in a suburban subdivision, which is a setting I would never have imagined occupying, but once the option of urban living was made functionally impossible, I began to embrace the benefits of the trade-off.

I’m reasonably confident that we have no moves in our immediate future.   And I have to say that, in the short time we’ve lived in this house, I’m very content in my nearly-new, fuel efficient, spacious, bright, and affordable (relative to the local market and our household income) home.

A completely surplus, unfinished basement is one very appealing benefit of our move.  The above-grade living space of our home equal to the total living space of our previous home.  See where I’m going with this?

Fourteen months ago, I would never have imagined building a home layout.  Today, I can realistically entertain that possibility.  I’m still intimidated by the thought of it, so right now I’m content to allow the layout to exist only in realm of conjecture.  But if I do build a layout, here’s a list of parameters that will inform my planning.

  • The layout will be an HO scale, shelf-style affair, with shelves that are generally about a foot deep.
  • 32″ minimum radius curves and switches no sharper than #6.
  • I’ll model the 1970s.
  • The layout will embody my nostalgia for that time, and this place (meaning a place within maybe a 200 kilometre radius of home).  I already have three possibilities that I’ll outline.
  • It will be designed so that I can build it in stages according to a plan, so that it can be operational nearly immediately and grow over time.
  • It will be designed for operation, and possible to operate it solo or with a small group of operators.
  • It will have a high degree of prototypical fidelity.
  • Duck-unders will be minimized, with a target of none.
  • The layout will not dominate the room.  There will be ample space for people, storage, and a workbench in the same room.

The space that I have at my disposal is roughly L-shaped and roughly 44′ x 28′.  Walls define most of the boundaries of the usable space, but there is also one boundary that has been established in the middle of the room.  There is a small, squarish crawl space that can be used for storage or staging.  Here’s an illustration.

Layout sketch


It is onto this blank canvas that I will come up with possible layout schemes.  As I noted above, I’m still not completely sold on any of the ideas I’ve come up with to date, but here are the top three contenders so far, in no particular order.

  1. A specific portion of the Grand River Railway.  This concept was proposed to me by Trevor Marshall, and I’m certain that he’ll write about it on the Achievable Layouts page of his blog.  Accordingly, I’ll leave the details of the idea to him.
  2. The TH&B “Belt Line” in Hamilton can be thought of as an operation that is independent of the rest of the railway.  Hamilton’s steel industries themselves are far too massive to be represented in a layout that would occupy my basement, but the traffic generated by those Stelco and Dofasco could be represented with staging.  The more modest industries and urban neighbourhoods would be make for a unique and highly identifiable setting.
  3. The parallel branch lines of the Penn Central and Erie Lackawanna through the town of North Tonawanda New York.  I’ve blogged about this in the past, and I’m still intrigued by the possibilities.  These two branch lines were separated by the width of a drainage ditch in places, and despite the understated names, they served as the major thoroughfare for rail traffic between southern Ontario and Buffalo’s major rail yards.  The local switching on either railway would be interesting to operate, but the through traffic on the two lines would be a colourful and diverse collection of trains from PC, EL, LV, TH&B, and C&O.

With all of those possibilities to ponder, I might have come up with a way to fill the long evenings of the coming winter.


4 thoughts on “A Blank Canvas

  1. It’s tempting to plan to fill the space and good to hear that you don’t intend to try (at least at the start). Anyway, in this space, building in phases along the walls always gives you the future option to loop back (via or in front of the crawl space) and then have a peninsula into the middle of the room.

    • Ya, I was thinking the same thing. The first two operations that I’m considering would operate as staging to terminal, so only one loop or helix would be needed. The third one would operate from staging, through the scene, and then into staging at the other end. I could accomplish that with a shelf along the three long walls and loop at each end and staging on a lower shelf. It would be continuous, in that a train would climb a helix or ramp out of staging, traverse the scene on all three walls, then descend a ramp or helix at the other end of the room to get back into the same staging from whence it came. But I consider that to be an ambitious plan.

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